I was in the midst of preparing an agenda for the Women’s Group meeting with Susan, my secretary, when the phone rang. “Hello, Susan speaking,” she answered in her usual pleasant voice. “Nana Cecilia, how are you? . . . Of course Pastor Lilia is here. (In the Filipino culture ‘Nana’ means ‘Auntie.’ All elder women are addressed as “Nana,” a title of respect. Nana Cecilia was 80 years old.) She handed me the phone as she whispered, “It’s Nana Cecilia, she is crying.” With my eyebrows raised, I grabbed the phone. “Hello, Nana Cecilia. How are you?” I asked. “Pastor, I need your help. I cannot find Nina. It’s been three days and I have not heard from her,” she pleaded.
Nina is her 40 year old daughter. A few weeks ago, she was ordered by the court to stay away from her mother because she had punched Nana Cecilia in the face. Nina had a violent temper especially when her mother refused to give her money. But like many mothers, Nana Cecilia was forgiving; she loved her only child and became panicky whenever Nina did not contact her even just for a day.
I did not take her seriously knowing that Nina often pulled a disappearing act. I asked, “Did you call Amy, her former roommate?” “Yes but, she told me, ‘I don’t have anything to do with that bitch.’ I am afraid Amy’s friends may have beaten her up.” Nana Cecilia sobbed.
Amy and Nina were “on and off” partners in a violent relationship. They recently had a physical fight after which Nina kicked Amy out of the apartment. I’ve also heard that Amy has friends from the rougher side of town. Nana Cecilia’s news worried me.
The Fresno Bee’s front page had been dominated by domestic violence. Hence, I instructed her, “Nana Cecilia, why don’t you call the police to report she is missing? I will call around and ask her friends if they have seen her or if they know where she went. I will call you back once I hear something.” “Thank you, pastor. I am going to call the police right now.”
Everyone I called told me they had neither seen nor heard from Nina. So, on the following day, I asked Susan to call Nina’s number again.” Maybe she’s home already,” I told her. She dialed Nina’s number. “She’s home,” Susan exclaimed as she gave me the phone.
I reprimanded Nina for causing her mother, worry—for not informing her where she has been. “Your mother has to call the police for assistance to find you”. Nina suddenly cut me off.
“O Okay pastor, I am sorry, I will call her right now. “
Thinking this is the end of Nana Cecilia’s problem, I was surprised when she called again, crying. I asked, “What is the matter Nana Cecilia? Nina is home now. Didn't she call you?
“O yes pastor, she said she was coming to see me. I was so happy and I even cooked her favorite dish, chicken adobo. But the moment I opened the door, she slapped me so hard I fell on the floor.”
“What? She hit you again? Are you all right?
"Yes Pastor, I am all right. I just have a bump on my head."
Why did Nina hit you?
“I don’t know pastor, but she told me I owe her $3,500. She said that she’ll come back tomorrow and beat me up if I do not pay her the money,”
Her voice trembled as she spoke and this concerned me. I knew the restraining order allowed Nina to call her mother, but did not allow her to get closer than a five-mile radius. I was angry with Nina.
“Why do you owe her that money?” I inquired. Nana Cecilia sounded more fearful: “I don’t know and she wants the whole amount tomorrow.”
I did not hesitate showing my anger when Nina answered the phone. “Nina, this is pastor, why did you slap your mother? After leaving her worried sick for three days this is what she gets? What kind of a daughter are you?”
“Pastor, I did not mean to hit her, I was just angry because she made me lose my tuition money.”
“Wait a minute. You mean to tell me that the two of you gambled your tuition fee? How could she have been with you at the casino, when she was here, calling everyone asking for you?
“She was not with me; I went to Reno by myself. But on the night before I left, I dreamt that I was in front of a banana tree that had a bunch of fruit—all golden ripe. I was plucking the bananas one by one until I had them all in my basket. You know what that meant Pastor?”
(She had my full attention at this moment) “No, tell me, what the meaning of your dream?
“It meant that the banana tree is the casino; the ripe bunch of bananas represents a manually operated slot machine. Each time I pull a golden ripe banana, I win”.
“That still does not explain why you slap your mother and why she owes you $3,500, or whatever amount you lost.”
“I woke up on the following day”, Nina says, “feeling lucky. So with the $3,500 check that I received from the Student Loan Office, I drove to Reno and cashed it at Boomtown. As I had foreseen, I was winning at Boomtown—I must have won a couple of thousands; then I went to El Dorado where I won another thousand. After an hour or so, I decided to go to Circus, Circus. That’s when I began to lose. I lost all my winnings including the $3,500 check for my tuition.”
“That still does not explain why your mother owes you what you have lost." I commented.
“Pastor, my bad luck happened at Circus, Circus. At the exact time I arrived at Circus, Circus, my mother started to look for me. When she called the police, that’s when my losing streak started. She gave me a bad karma.
“And how did you know that she was looking for you at that time?”
“This morning, when I went to her house, I asked her what day and time she phoned the police. ‘10:00 in the morning, on Tuesday,’ she said. That was the day and time I was at Circus, Circus. Pastor, my mother caused my losing streak.”
Not knowing whether I should laugh or cry, I warned her. “Nina, I don’t know where you learned all these superstitious beliefs, but I am telling you, hitting your mother again is a crime. You have violated the terms of the judge’s order. The police may come and arrest you and put you to jail. Do not even think of going near your mother’s building again. And, if I were you, I will call her to apologize and ask for forgiveness.”
Nina promised not to confront Nana Cecilia again. She apologized and asked for forgiveness. However that same afternoon, a neighbor called to inform me what had happened: Nina went back to her mother’s place, demanding her money. When Nana Cecilia refused to open the door, she started kicking it, yelling, and screaming, arousing the whole floor of the apartment building. One of the neighbors called the police.
The police charged her with more than one offense: violating the judge’s restraining order, physical assault, and disturbing the peace at the seniors’ in the apartment building. Nina was sentenced to 30 days in prison, and 120 hours of community work. She was also ordered to attend anger management.
On the following Sunday, I did not see Nana Cecilia at church. Worried, I decided to visit her after worship without calling as I presumed she was always home. I knocked at her door until my knuckle started to ache. I went to her neighbor, to ask if she knew where Nana Cecilia was. “Didn’t she tell you? Cecilia took the bus to visit Nina early this morning. She has not been able to sleep because she was feeling guilty about Nina’s incarceration.” Her answer did not surprise me, yet I had to shake my head in disbelief. But then I realize I might have done the same. After all a mother’s love is an unconditional.
Thirty days had passed, since the court sentenced Nina. One morning, Nana Cecilia unexpectedly dropped at my office. She asked me to offer a prayer of thanksgiving because Nina seemed to have calmed down. She even promised to respect her mom and drive her to church every Sunday. “Pastor, would you believe that she even dropped me here today, and will pick me up in about an hour?”
Relieved, I prayed with her. After the prayer, I asked her what she thought was the reason why Nina had changed. “Well, pastor, I realized that what happened was my entire fault. She was imprisoned because of me. I promised to pay her the $3,500, in installments . . . “ I stopped listening. I did not even remember what I told her before she left.
After mother and daughter left, I suddenly felt drained of energy. Hence, I decided to go home. Tired from Nana Cecilia and Nina’s shenanigans, I lied on the sofa and closed my eyes. Then I remembered my banana tree at the backyard. It had a bunch of fruits that was about to ripen. I got up from the sofa and went out to the backyard to check the tree. I was surprised to see all fruits ripen into golden mouthwatering bananas. I got my long ladder and grabbed a basket to pluck the bananas. I did this until I could not carry the basket anymore. Just when I got down from the ladder, I saw Nina and Nana Cecilia, hand in hand, walking towards me. Nana Cecilia was waving a wad of $100 bills in her hand.
I grabbed my bananas and aimed to throw these at them. But I could not . . . because I woke up. Thank God, it was only a dream. I thought I had lost my cool in a basket of bananas.